The World Series of Firsts; How the Indians Beat the Robins in 1920

It was nearly 100 years ago, October 10, 1920. The Cleveland Indians battled the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. That day, game five, was the turning point for a series that seemed for a moment to be a win for the Dodgers.

Although the Indians came out swinging, winning game one, the Brooklyn Dodgers or Robins as folks called them at the time (a reference to manager Wilbert Robinson) had won games two and three.

Those would be the last wins the Robins would enjoy for the season. Game four went to the Indians, tying up the series, then in game five, they beat the Robins in points and bravado.

The Indians not only took them roundly, they set a couple of records in game five, a glorious win they wouldn’t enjoy again for almost three decades.

League Pennants

It was nearly the Chicago White Sox in the 1920 World Series. The pennant series between the Cleveland and Chicago was close, but Chicago was shy a few key players in the end.

The previous year, 1919, the White Sox lost the World Series. Accusations arose that they threw the series, known as the Black Sox Scandal.

The scandal resulted in legal acquittals via the justice system, but that didn’t prevent the suspension of eight White Sox players nonetheless.

The newly appointed commissioner, former federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, dismissed those eight players with three games left in the season.

As a side note, all eight were not only suspended but banned from baseball for all time. Further note, one of those players was Shoeless Joe Jackson.

In the end, the Cleveland Indians took the pennant by two games over the Chicago White Sox, three over the New York Yankees whose new star player, Babe Ruth, hadn’t yet demonstrated all his might.

In the National League, the Brooklyn Robins crushed second-place New York Giants by seven wins. The World Series would be Brooklyn v Cleveland.

The First Four Games

The 1920 series was a best of nine, but the Indians would only need seven games to win it.

Game one played on Robins’ turf, Ebbets Field, went well. The Indians won three to one. Nobody likes a loss at home, but in game one, it’s an even tougher blow.

The next two games were also at Ebbets, but the Robin’s reminded everyone who’s field it was. They took the Indians three to zero in game two, two to one in game three.

For a minute, it looked like the Robins had a chance. If they could have beaten the Indians in game four at League Park in Cleveland, then they might have taken back the series when it returned to Brooklyn for game eight.

As it turned out, they didn’t get past game seven. The Indians beat them five to one in game four, heating up the series with a tie.

The rest of the series would play out at League Park, where the Indians forced the Robins to sing their swan song.

Game Five

Wamby’s triple | baseballhistorycomesalive

Going into game five, the Indians knew they had to win two more games after that to avoid taking that long ride up to New York.

Five would be the tipping point, where Cleveland would take the lead. From a psychological perspective, winning game five would deflate the Robins enough that Cleveland could play with confidence.

The Indians had to have felt the opportunity that day because they didn’t just win, they made three firsts.

In all of MLB history, there have been three unassisted triple plays, only one of which happened in a World Series. It was in the 1920 series, made by Indians player, Bill “Wamby” Wambsganss. describes the play perfectly:

“With runners on first and second Wambsganss leaped high and grabbed, with his gloved hand, a line drive from Mitchell’s bat, one that looked as if it might fairly wind up be being a two-base hit. The runners, who had started as Bagby began to deliver the ball, were far on their way, so far that it was the work of but an instant for Wambsganss to step on second base, thus putting out Kilduff, then turn and touch Miller…”

Then Cleveland’s Elmer Smith brought in the first grand slam in World Series history, and Cleveland’s pitcher Jim Bagby, Sr., hit the first homer by a pitcher in a series.

The blows were daft to Brooklyn’s collective ego. The Robins didn’t score even one more point during the rest of the series. Games six and seven, the Robins delivered goose eggs, giving the series to Cleveland.

Nearly three decades later, the Indians would return to the World Series of another win, then three more times, in ’54, ’95, and ’97, but nothing like the 1920 series.

In more recent history the Indians have enjoyed a resurgence of their former glory. In 2016 they went to the World Series against the Chicago Cubs, and they’ve managed to retain one of the best pitching staffs of all time.